1954 Year In Review

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Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint
The Giulietta Sprint featured the first mass-produced twin cam engine, and what a fantastic engine it was.

Snooks Wentzel of the Joie Chitwood Auto Daredevil team gets some air
Snooks Wentzel of the Joie Chitwood Auto Daredevil team gets some air.

Aki Kimura does a dive bomb routine in an old Ford
Aki Kimura does a dive bomb routine in an old Ford. Kimura was president of the Stuntmen's association in 1954.

Bill Wards Canadian Aces perform a synchronised ramp routine
Bill Wards Canadian Aces perform a synchronised ramp routine.

Dutch Schnitzer drives his 1934 Ford straight into a 20 ton pile of ice blocks, at 90 miles per hour
Dutch Schnitzer drives his 1934 Ford straight into a 20 ton pile of ice blocks, at 90 miles per hour.


Graham Hill
Graham Hill made his racing debut in 1954.
1954 saw the release of the wondeful and nimble handling Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint. While the chassis was involving and quickly gained respect from motoring journalists of the day, it was the wonderul twin-cam engine that really made the Sprint a stand-out. The first ever mass-produced twin cam engine was to not only revive the reputation of Alfa, but make the Sprint one of the stand-out cars of the decade.

The International Stuntmen's Association's Tournament of Thrills



In the USA the world's most dangerous drivers were, by 1954, risking their lives in an orderly fashion. Well, more or less orderly. After years of haphazard performances and uncertain pay-checks, the International Stuntmen's Association set up an amazing Tournament of Thrills which finally gave the world's top auto-daredevils a chance to win big prizes in above-board competition. Auto maniacs from all over the world were making plans to get into the fender-rumpling race for profits and thrills.

Lucky Teter



But it wasn't always that way. There was no such thing as an auto stunt show until 1934 when a daring young man in a flying old Ford stepped on the gas, picked up speed and deliberately rolled his car over. His name was Lucky Teter and during the years after he took his first bow until he killed himself trying out a new stunt, the crash-for-cash profession really got rolling. There were plenty of growing pains, however. The main beef among stuntmen, before 1954, was that there was no added compensation for unusual risks and therefore no initiative for a daredevil to take any more chances than they had to. The only recognition a star got for their extra pains was a bigger round of applause.

This sad lack of organized competition was fully taken care of, however, when prominent stunt drivers formed the official Stuntmen's Association and set up the yearly International Stunt Contest. This stunt bonanza was run off more or less in the manner of a rodeo. Any member of a sanctioned team could compete for the world's-championship gold trophy donated by the Ford Motor Company or for part of the US$10,000 purse which was accumulated during the season. Scoring depended on a carefully graded point system according to the danger of each stunt. With the added spirit of competition, a spectacular profession had finally become a full-fledged sport as well.

Graham Hill Makes His Debut



One day in 1954 all the leading motoring writers in Great Britain plus all the leading racing car manufacturers and team managers received a copy of an identical letter. It read: "Dear Sir, At Brands Hatch next Monday a new star will make his debut at the wheel of a Cooper 500. I would be pleased if you could witness his performance personally and take note of his development, I remain. Yours sincerely, G. Hill, P.S: The name of the driver is G. Hill." The significant thing about this was not the letter itself, motoring journalists received literally hundreds of such letters from young aspirants back then. But only few of the authors of such letters did ever become stars and indeed Graham Hill became a star.

He admitted later in his career that he blushed every time he thought about the letter, and those who received it probably never remember it because such letters were automatically condemned to the waste paper baskets. Perhaps it is a pity that they didn't witness Graham's first drive, as he put on a splendid show and finished in fourth place. If they had realised what promise he had, his hard climb to the top might well have been easier.

Graham had never been interested in motor racing until 1953, in fact he had never driven a motor car of any description until 1952 when he was 23 years old. His chief interest had been rowing. In 1953 he stroked the first eight of the London Rowing Club, Britain's premier club, in the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley. But his first car - a Morris 8 convertible of all things - convinced Graham that motor racing was the life for him. So he left his job at Smith's, the famous instrument makers, where he had worked ever since he left school except for a two year stint in the navy as an engine room artificer.

Jobs in motor racing weren't easy to get, but this did not deter young Graham - he worked for nothing. He went on the dole and got £1/12/6 per week so that he could go down to Brands Hatch circuit and work on the cars which belonged to a racing drivers' training school' that was based there. Thus, his first drive, and three more that season, were in one of the school's cars. Towards the end of 1954 he was looking after a Lotus Mk VIII and the next year he had charge of a C-type Jaguar.

He co-drove the Jaguar with its owner in one of the series of Continental races they attended and on their return to England Graham was permitted to race the car. Graham had met the Lotus designer and manufacturer towards the end of 1954 and had worked at the Lotus shop on odd occasions. In the middle of 1955 he went to work for Lotus full time and, on the strength of this, he married. His wife Betty was an old acquaintance from his rowing days. She was a skilled oars-woman and had represented Great Britain in the European Games! In October, 1955, Team Lotus took the new Mark IX Model down to Brands Hatch where a number of leading drivers tested it. Graham was also given a try and a number of people were quite surprised that a virtuali'y unknown G. Hill was a good deal quicker than some of the stars.

Then in 1956, Graham raced a Lotus XI which he built and maintained himself. He was quite successful with this 1172 cc Ford-engined car and it became known as the "Yellow Peril." At Brands in April he won the 1100cc Sports Car race, driving Cliff Allison's car. In the process he broke Colin Chapman's lap record - surely a poor way to treat his boss! In 1957, John Willment persuaded Graham to leave Lotus and help him develop a Formula II car. The car never came to anything, but Willment got John Cooper to give Graham a drive in one of his works Formula II cars. Graham acquitted himself well as third member of the team, Jack Brabham and Roy Salvadori being the two top drivers. Colin Chapman realised he had let a good man go.

He invited Graham back not as a mechanic but as a works driver. He drove Works Formula I and II cars and Sports Cars for the rest of 1957, in 1958 and 1959. But always the cars suffered mechanical failures, though very often they were technically superior to their rivals. Graham gradually developed into a first class driver and when the cars kept going he really acquitted himself well'. Graham said: "You can't write about my successes because I haven't had any." Unfortunately at the time this was true, but nobody would have hesitated to name Graham Hill as one of the world top six racing drivers.

His exploits at the wheel of the BRM during the 1960 F1 season were remarkable. At Monaco he was disputing second place with Bruce McLaren when he spun off, demolishing the steps of the timekeeper's hut as well as modifying the BRM beyond drivability. At Zandvoort he drove a very sensible race to fill third place, despite acute pressure from Stirling Moss. At Spa he was second to Brabham throughout the race until his unfortunate retirement with only one lap remaining. At Rheims his first practice time put him on the front row of the starting grid, where he was shunted when he could not get the BRM to engage low gear at the start.

Holden's Export to New Zealand



1954 would also see the first Hoidens being exported to New Zealand. By year's end some 321 would be shipped. Unfortunately for the environment, and particularly Bikini Atoll, nuclear testing would commence when the US detonated the first hydrogen bomb.

Formula One Championship:

Juan Manuel Fangio (Argentina) / Maserati / Mercedes

NRL Grand Final:



VFL/AFL Grand Final:



Melbourne Cup:

Rising Fast (J. Purtell)

Wimbledon Women:

Maureen Connolly d. L. Brough (6-2 7-5)

Wimbledon Men:

Jaroslav Drobny d. K. Rosewall (13-11 4-6 6-2 9-7)

The Movies:

  • On the Waterfront
  • Rear Window
  • The Caine Mutiny
  • Sabrina
  • The High and the Mighty

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture - On the Waterfront
  • Best Actor - Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront)
  • Best Actress - Grace Kelly (The Country Girl)

Farewells:

  • Lionel Barrymore (Silent Screen actor and Drew's Grandad)
  • Henri Matisse (French artist)
   
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